How to find a job when you’re just starting out

G U E S T  A R T I C L E

I was a human book in the Living Library at the Innovation Fair a few weeks back and two of the three readers who signed me out were young people looking for career guidance.

Those conversations, as well as many I’ve had with others looking for a job when they’re early in their careers, inspired this post. I was also inspired by a great story that Hugues Lhérisson told me, which you’ll find at the end of this article.

While the advice here is tailored to people with little or no experience, many of the tips are relevant to anyone looking to find a job or change jobs.

Do research on how to look for a job. While you may already know some techniques for finding a job, you probably could stand to learn more. In doing research for this post, I came across a few tips that I hadn’t heard before. The Internet is full of advice about how to craft a great resume, how to write an authentic cover letter, how to land an interview. But don’t just stop at Google. Ask others how they got their first job. For example, I got into government by first working for an employment agency. I gained experience and exposure, two things I advise young workers to look for – not just through employment but also through volunteer work. Check out books from your local library. And visit an employment centre to get ideas on where and how to look for a job.

Tell everyone you know that you’re looking for a job. I heard this advice years ago and I always loved it. Tell you friends, your neighbours, your old school chums. You’d be surprised at how often someone says, “I’m looking for someone to join my team.” Make sure your acquaintances can say, “I know just the person.” As Robert Michael says in Finding Employment When You’re Just Starting Out, “It’s really the law of averages – the more people who are aware of your employment search, the more chances that a job offer will come through.”

When crafting your CV, think about skills you’ve gained outside a traditional job. Job seekers with little work experience often struggle to write a CV. But skills can be acquired in more ways than on the job, including volunteer work, extracurricular activities, community involvement, blogging, even a hobby – any undertakings that demonstrate skills. My 26-year-old son includes in his CV acting in three community theatre plays, which demonstrates commitment (each play requires about 150 hours of volunteer time), comfort speaking before a large group, and ability to work as part of a team.

Ask someone who pays attention to detail to proofread and critique your CV. If your application includes obvious spelling or grammar mistakes, it will create a negative impression. While I can overlook one typo, numerous mistakes get me thinking, “If you can’t pay attention to something that really matters to you, could I trust you to pay attention to something that really matters to me?” In The Ultimate Guide to Getting a Job After You Graduate, Katie Burke recommends: “Everyone knows someone with a particularly good eye for catching mistakes – pay them in lunch or coffee to help you do a final check of your materials before you ship them.”

Start acquiring new skills today to expand your CV tomorrow. Even if your CV is short on competencies, you can start gaining new ones today. Volunteering not only allows you to acquire and demonstrate skills, but also helps you to expand your networks and gain exposure. Another terrific way to develop skills is blogging, which can help you to hone your research, writing and editing skills. And blogs aren’t restricted just to words. Try photo-based articles, or video posts. A third way to gain experience and exposure is to join a professional organization and volunteer to play a role, such as managing the organization’s social media or web presence.

Write a cover letter tailored to the job or organization to which you are applying and share your story. Cover letters (or cover emails) are usually the first thing I read when someone contacts me in the hopes of finding a position or a lead on a job. Any message that sounds like a form letter (the kind mailed to hundreds of managers) is an immediate turnoff. So are messages that are devoid of personality and crammed with sentences in the passive voice. One way to create an authentic communication is to add your bio to your cover letter. Michael Margolis recommends in The Resume Is Dead, The Bio Is King that you aim for something between “obnoxious self-importance [and] boring earnestness.” He adds: “Your bio should address the following five questions:

1.    Who am I?

2.    How can I help you?

3.    How did I get here?

4.    Why can you trust me?

5.    What do we share in common?”

Google yourself. OK, that’s only step 1. Step 2 is to look at the brand you’re putting out to the world through your online presence. What do your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles and posts say about you? Do you project positive qualities like professionalism, dedication to causes, and concern for others? Or do you leave a negative impression, perhaps as someone who dislikes her boss or likes questionable humour? “If [your online presence] doesn’t align with the narrative you’re using in your job applications, invest the time and energy to change it,” says Katie Burke in The Ultimate Guide to Getting a Job After You Graduate.

Build a professional online presence, especially through LinkedIn. Establish a profile on LinkedIn. Make the effort to include a professional photo since this will be the first thing anyone sees on your profile. Go beyond sharing the details in your CV. Add the profile from your cover letter. Like, share and comment on posts that you find interesting. Follow people in your field or the field you’re interested in working in. Endorse other people for their skills (they may do the same in return). Join groups, including your alma mater. In other social media platforms, especially Twitter, join conversations, particularly those with other people in your field. A great Public Service conversation to join is #LeadersGC, a Twitter chat among GC public servants the third Thursday of every month.

Connect with alumni. In How to Get Hired When You’re Just Starting Your Career, Alison Green advises: “Get in touch with your alma mater and ask to be put into contact with alumni in your field. You might be surprised by how willing fellow alumni are to help you out, whether it’s talking with you informally about their career path and what you can expect within the industry or helping you connect with hiring managers in your field.” I hadn’t thought of this before reading Green’s blog post, but it’s a great idea. It pairs well with the next tip, which is one of my favourites.

Conduct informational interviews. This is when you interview others, including people you’d love to work for, rather than the other way around. Here’s the simple recipe.

1.    Request 15 minutes of their time.

2.    Ask three questions:

a.    How did you get to where you are?

b.    What do you look for when hiring someone in your field?

c.    Is there anyone else you think I should meet?

3.    Follow up the meeting with a thank you or to share any resources you promised to pass along.

If you do land an interview, treat everyone you meet with respect. In fact, treating others with respect is a best practice at all times. On interview day, show respect by noticing and valuing everyone you encounter over the course of your day – from the commissionaire you meet when signing in to the building, to the assistant who escorts you to the interview, to the HR person sitting on the board. “Treat everyone you interact with at the company as though they are your interviewer,” advises Katie Burke in The Ultimate Guide to Getting a Job After You Graduate.  If you leave a negative impression on the assistant, he’s liable to mention it to the hiring manager.

Remember that everyday you are auditioning for a potential employer. Hugues Lhérisson beautifully illustrates this point through this story:

Have I ever told you how I got my first job in Canada? Freshly immigrated to Montreal, I decided to volunteer for an NGO to obtain Canadian work experience. That NGO was located in a building with other small organizations, and its photocopier was used by employees from those organizations at minimal cost. One day, during lunch hour, a woman, carrying a Harvey’s lunch bag came to our office to make photocopies. We usually gathered in a room to eat our lunches; employees eating lunches in their cubicles, like we do in Ottawa, was unthinkable. I invited that woman, whom I had met for the first time, to have her lunch with us and to make her photocopies after. She smiled and responded that she was too shy to join us. Then she asked me what I was doing in that NGO. I told her that “I was a volunteer and was looking for a job” – a line that I had learned at a job search workshop for immigrants. She took my phone number and told me that she had submitted a project to the City of Montreal that would be approved very soon and that she would hire me as the project coordinator. I asked her if she needed my resume and references; she said no. The day after, I gave her my résumé and references anyway (she told me months later that she put both in the recycle bin as soon as I left her office.) That’s how I got my first job with the Jewish Family Services. That 6- or 8-month project helped me start a career in Canada.

[Your best tip here.] Help me add to this list by including your best job-finding techniques. You could simply tell your story about how you found your first job (or what you would consider to be the first job in your career). Think of it as a simple act to pay it forward to those coming after you.

Also available on GCConnex

About the author:

Jennifer Hollington

Jennifer Hollington is senior executive in the Canadian public service who writes a weekly blog called Café Jen‎ on the theme of success at work. You can reach Jennifer using our contact form.

Other article(s) from the author
Productivity vs Learning
(published on August 21, 2016)

Copyrighted Material: Article has been produced with permission from the author. Title picture is not associated with the original writing and is property of ASQ Ottawa Valley Section.


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